The best hip-hop songs of all time.


When the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight premiered 40 years ago, many tastemakers dismissed it as a clever track made to make money. The song then began to move units by the millions and climbed up the US Billboard charts, peaking at number 36 in 1980 and number three on the UK Singles Chart. Rapper’s Delight wasn’t the first hip-hop song, but it was the genre’s commercial Big Bang, and a sign that this music born in the corridors of Bronx housing estates and public parks was more than a passing fad.

Hip-hop is pop culture now. The genre’s dominance of the airwaves, airplay numbers, and commercial charts is undeniable, not to mention its influence on everything from avant-garde electronica to the mainstream pop music DNA of artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande.

But it is more than that. Hip-hop has become a dominant cultural force, fueling conversations about music, literature, and entertainment. Cardi B and Common are movie stars. Young Thug has created a trail of imitators spanning genres and sounds. Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2018 album DAMN. And it has become a truly global phenomenon, crossing ethnic, linguistic, and geographic boundaries. The journey from DJ Kool Herc’s turntables to the addictive sounds and memes of Megan Thee Stallion and Lil’ Nas X was a long one, but hip hop is here to stay.

We asked 108 critics, artists, tastemakers, producers and photographers from 15 different countries to name their top five personal hip-hop tracks of all time. More than 280 different songs were named, a testament to the breadth and depth of the genre, and how the term “best” can be interpreted in a number of ways.

The results are dominated by the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of hip-hop between the mid-’80s and mid-’90s, though there are a few surprises from a more recent crop with Kanye West’s Pusha T-assisted Runaway coming in at No. 12. There was a noticeable lack of women in the Top 25; only Queen Latifah’s 1993 hit “UNITY” and Lauryn Hill’s supremely catchy “Doo Wop (That Thing)” make the list. (You can read more about the shortage of female MCs on our list here.) Rapper’s Delight, the track that arguably started it all, charted at number 14.

The full list of critics’ picks is below. One more thing to add: the purpose of surveys like these should be to spark discussion and encourage discovery. And we realize that no list can be final or will please everyone, so take a look at the list below, listen to the playlistand get in touch with the hashtag #GreatestHipHopSongs and let us know what’s missing. And look for more articles on the global impact of hip-hop in the coming weeks.

25.* Alright, Kendrick Lamar (2015)
25.* Rosa Parks, OutKast (1998)
24. All the lights, Kanye West ft. Rhianna, Kid Cudi (2010)
23. Grinding, Clipse (2002)
22. Get Lost, Eminem (2002)
21. Doo Wop (That Thing), Lauryn Hill (1998)
20. International Players Anthem, UGK ft. Out Kast (2007)
18. Fuck the Police, NWA (1988)
17. It was a good day, Ice Cube (1992)
16. BOB, OutKast (2000)
15. They Remember You (TROY), Pete Rock & CL Smooth (1992)
14. Rapper’s Pleasure, Sugarhill Gang (1979)
13. Paid in full, Eric B and Rakim (1987)
12. Runaway, Kanye West ft. Pusha T. (2010)
11. Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest (1993)
10. Dear Mom, Tupac Shakur (1995)
9. New York State of Mind, Nas (1994)
8. Passin’ Me By, The Pharcyde (1992)
7. 93 to infinity, mischievous souls (1993)
6. CREAM, Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
5. Nothing but a ‘G’ Thang, Dr. Dr. ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg (1992)
4. The Message, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (1982)
3. Shook Ones (Part II), Mobb Deep (1995)
2. Fight against the power, public enemy (1989)
1. Juicy, Notoriously BIG (1994)

More on BBC Music’s Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time:
What critics had to say about the top 10
Full list of critics who participated and how they voted
Why Juicy is number one (not available in UK)
Trends and surprises in the survey (not available in UK)
Why are there so few women in hip-hop polls? (not available in UK)
Top 25 Songs Playlist (Spotify)

How many of these songs do you agree with? Let us know with the hashtag #GreatestHipHopSongs at Facebook either twitter.

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